Call Me a YIMFY: New 160-Unit Housing Development Proposed for Full Block of Cesar Chavez at South Van Ness

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NOTE: This post has been updated to reflect additional detail about the properties involved (and not involved) in the Lennar housing proposal.

At a time of remarkable economic prosperity and intense housing scarcity, there comes a moment when even the most ardent urbanist must confront their own deepest and most self-interested feelings about change, development, and the clash of old vs. new.

For your Bernalwood editor, that moment would seem to be just about now.

News has reached us that the gigantically impersonal Lennar Corporation has announced plans to develop an most of entire block of Cesar Chavez Boulevard, between South Van Ness, Shotwell, and 26th Street. Under the plan, the site will become the location for 160 units of new housing in a very large new residential development.

This block, which was once home to the former Lesher-Muirhead Oldsmobile dealership, is now occupied McMillan Electric, a few smog inspection shop, a private garage,  a rather glamorous Auto Zone, and John’s ridiculously charming British car repair businesses (though not all of these would be demolished; see update below):

John's Jaguar

Closer to home, this vast new housing complex will stand right between me and the beloved view of downtown San Francisco that Bernalwood’s Cub Reporter now enjoys from her bedroom window.

Here’s our current perspective on the proposed development site, as seen from my home:

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SocketSite broke the news late last week:

Lennar Urban has filed a proposal to raze the McMillan Electric building at 1515 South Van Ness Avenue, between 26th and Cesar Chavez, with plans to construct a 160-unit apartment building on the Inner Mission site which stretches to Shotwell.

As proposed, the six-story development would rise to a height of 65-feet along South Van Ness, stepping down along 26th Street to five stories and a height of 55-feet along Shotwell.  And twelve (12) percent of the 160 units would be designated as below market rate.

Aside from a proposed 1,740 square foot commercial space on the corner of South Van Ness and 26th Street, the rest of the development’s ground floor would consist of either apartments or programming for the project, including a leasing office, an amenities room for the residents and a private 7,803 square-foot courtyard.

An underground garage would provide parking for 90 cars and the average size of an apartment as designed is around 890 square feet.

Well, if this is the moment when my values and interests are tested, then sign me up me a YIMFY‚ as in Yes In My Front Yard.

I hope the new building doesn’t gobble up all of our view. But if it does, well… so it goes. That view wasn’t mine in the first place, we desperately need more housing supply, and this is an ideal location for it.

There are no proposed designs yet, but you can read the Preliminary Project Assessment (PPA) on file with with the Planning Department right here to get the details of the proposal.

Will there be quibbles? Things to dislike? Details to revise and improve? Of course. But overall, my personal sentiment is… BUILD IT!!

Neighbor Rachel wrote to Bernalwood about this proposal, and she has more specific concerns:

I’m not opposed in principle to development and this lot is pretty disgusting right now. I just think that developers who are proposing a project of this size with huge profit potential, which will take up scarce parking spaces, block views (or the sky in my case), cause noise and disruption for years, spew toxic chemicals into the atmosphere (maybe), and otherwise tax the neighborhood resources and patience, need to include lots of give-backs in their plans that will help the neighborhood.

These give-backs must go beyond the bare minimum. The commercial space should serve the hood by providing needed retail outlets and space for local businesses. The street-scaping should beautify the whole area, not just the sidewalks adjacent to the building. The set-backs should be appropriate for the neighborhood. A good solution for parking for all of the new residents should be found that doesn’t cause more strain on the existing neighbors. And more. If we just let the project go ahead without making any noise, then the developers will give no more than they are required to give by law, if that. They are counting on the neighborhood remaining ignorant and apathetic.

No doubt, there will be much to discuss about this in the weeks and months ahead. Still, until further notice, you may count me in the YIMFY camp.

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION: It seems that the proposed development may not occupy the entire block after all. Bernalwood received this note from Dan Simpson, the manager at John’s British Car Specialist:

I read your blog post about the proposed apartment complex to be constructed at the McMillan Electric building. I hope you will be happy to hear, as it stands, the John’s British Car Specialist (formerly John’s Jaguar Service) building shall remain at the face of Cesar Chavez and Shotwell St. The planned development would knock down the 3 units behind our building. These units have already been sold to the city, our building remains with the original owner. So we hope to stay here as long as we can!

To further clarify: The AutoZone parcel is not part of the proposed development, nor is the building that contains John’s British Car Specialist. This latter detail is confusing, because while the big building that contains John’s looks continuous, it is actually two structurally separate buildings united by a common roof. So while John’s building would stay, the garages north of it would become part of the Lennar development.

And lo, hidden in plain sight at the very end of the PPA document, Dan steered us toward this diagram of the proposed building configuration (shown in blue outline). The proposed courtyard would sit in the southeast corner of the site, along Shotwell right behind John’s British Car Specialist:

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Still unclear, however, is the question of whether the City plans to do a separate bel0w-market-rate development on the site of the garage spaces behind John’s British Car, or if that land is somehow tied up with the Lennar proposal.

IMAGES: Top, Google Earth Pro. Below, view from the bedroom, by Telstar Logistics 

Your Bonkers Bernal Heights Real Estate Report for Early Autumn 2014

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Let’s check in on the state of our residential real estate market, shall we?

The data-trackers at Downing and Company did one of their occasional Bernal Heights home sales roundups for July 2014, and this is what they found:

Home prices in Bernal Heights continued to soar during July. Last month 19 homes traded hands at an average price of $1,321,805 setting a new record high for this neighborhood.

Prices were up across the board including rehab properties. Fixer uppers in Bernal Heights are now selling in the $800K to $900K price range (see 43 Bache Ave, 44 Azterc St, 671 Peralta Ave, and 45 Richland Ave). Previously rehab properties were trading between $600K to $750K. Post rehab developers are now looking to sell north of $1.5 million in Bernal Heights.

Sellers clearly remain in control of the market as evidenced by the pace of sales. Buyers put on their running shoes, moved quickly, and scooped up homes in an average of only 26 days last month.

Woa. The image above illustrates those July 2014 sales; if you’d like a more detailed breakdown, visit the Downing and Company website.

Over at Bernal neighbor (and realtor) Michael Minson’s blog, Ann Cervantes summarizes the year so far:

San Francisco’s Bernal Heights neighborhood experienced a 19.7% increase in estimated home value from August 2013 to August 2014.

The median estimated home value in Bernal Heights was $1.06M. The median home value in San Francisco was $927K.

Double woa.

Meanwhile, two Bernal properties have been attracting some attention in the last few days.  On Friday CurbedSF highlighted a “quirky Bernal bungalow” on Highland with a backyard pool that just hit that market with a $990K asking price:

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Hiding behind an ugly green facade in Bernal Heights is a Craftsman masterpiece filled with period details and surprising touches. And in the backyard is an even bigger surprise: a heated saltwater pool built by the current owner, a New Zealander who loves to swim. Flowers and greenery surround the pool, which includes four exercise jets and was built in 2008. Inside, the home’s Craftsman details are almost entirely intact, with dark wood everywhere, box beam ceilings, and a brick fireplace.

Tiki lanterns sold separately.

Then, if you picked up a copy of last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle, you might have noticed this brand-new home on Elsie on the cover of the real estate section:

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152 Elsie has four levels, 4 bedrooms, 3.5 baths and an asking price of $2.2 million. The Chron gushes:

A staircase made of glass, steel and hardwood connects all four levels, and the ground floor includes a family room with bar area and art niches. Sliding glass doors open to the rear garden, a space with planter boxes and high privacy fences. The lowest level also hosts two bedrooms and bathrooms, as well as the laundry room.

Crowning the home is a master suite with view deck, walk-in closets and a spa-quality bathroom with soaking tub and separate shower. The oblong tub is oriented beneath a window to maximize views of San Francisco’s rolling hills.

Sutro Tower sold separately.

Bernal Heights 1BR Apartment Rental Prices Double In Three Years

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*sigh* This is not the sort of news Bernalwood likes to share, yet share it we must — because it is happening whether we like it or not.

Or rather, it happened. You see, during the last three years, the price of a one-bedroom apartment rental in Bernal Heights has doubled.

According to the number-crunchers at Pricenomics, between 2011 and 2014, the median price of a one-bedroom apartment rental in Bernal rose by 101%, from $1683 to $3390. In fact, during that same period, median one-bedroom apartment rental prices in Bernal Heights rose the most of any neighborhood in San Francisco. Oy:

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This is not the kind of We’re Number One we wish to be associated with.

In absolute terms, 1BR rentals in Bernal are also on the spendy side, ranking fifth overall citywide —  higher even than Noe, Nob Hill, and Pac Heights. Oh my:

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Why is it happening? Blame our innate awesomeness, combined with very limited rental supply and very favorable geography. In other words, Econ 101.

As Pricenomics explains:

The San Francisco real estate market is, technically speaking, muy caliente. If you’ve looked for an apartment recently, or follow our blog, you know that rental prices have exploded and small homes sell for more than Detroit skyscrapers. San Francisco is a beautiful place, with a bustling economy that has drawn tens of thousands of new residents over the past few years. But the supply of housing is relatively fixed as large swathes of the city aren’t zoned for the type of high density housing that could accommodate the increased demand. So the price of housing has increased.

For us in particular, Pricenomics says:

Proximity to the highways and shuttle buses that take tech workers south to companies like Google, Facebook, and Apple is also reorienting the real estate landscape. Living in neighborhoods like Bernal Heights or Portero was once (arguably) like living in a backwater, but these commuting-friendly areas are now expensive and popular.

ALL CHARTS: from Pricenomics

Bernal Heights Lives Up to “Hottest Neighborhood” Hype, Despite Ongoing Ambivalence

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You may recall that awkward moment last winter when the real estate gurus at Redfin decided to honor and torment us by naming Bernal Heights the Hottest Neighborhood in the Entire Galaxy. Since then, the Citizens of Bernalwood have struggled with a deep sense of ambivalence about what it means to be recognized for our (rather obvious) hotness — and what that portends for the future of our humble-proud village on the hill.

Well, now Redfin has decided to torment us yet again by revisiting their decision to name us Hottest of the Hot, to see if Bernal Heights has lived up to the hype (which they themselves created).

Thankfully, SF Weekly wrote up the result, so I don’t have to:

There’s no better time than the present to quote supermodel turned Project Runway host Heidi Klum: “One day you’re in and the next day you’re out.” Klum is absolutely right in her tough-as-acrylic nails approach; however, we shouldn’t fail to recognize that there’s always an exception to the rule and in this case the Bernal Heights neighborhood is one mighty fine exception.

Back in January, real estate site Redfin chose Bernal Heights as the hottest neighborhood in America, due in large part to its affordable housing (not really, but go on), reasonable commute and a better-than-average school system. Seven months later (as in this very second), Redfin revisited the list and decided that Bernal Heights still smolders amidst the summer heat (felt everywhere but in S.F.) as the nation’s coolest neighborhood.

The reasons behind all this Bernal Heights summer of love include 22 percent increase in the median home sale price compared to this time last year and 81.5 percent of homes in the area selling above the list price.

On the unambiguous side, we can take pride in the fact that Bernal Heights lived up to expectations and did not disappoint, which are core attributes of our neighborhood character and brand identity.

IMAGE: Bernalwood Bureau of Unicorn Management

Airbnb Hosts Stage Backyard Rally in Bernal Heights

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In addition to the counter-protest at Planned Parenthood, there was another demonstration event in Bernal Heights yesterday, but this second action was taken by neighbors who generate income by renting out space in their homes for vacation rentals. They call themselves Fair to Share San Francisco, and the Examiner tells the story:

It helped Marcia Weisbrut get on her feet after cancer. It paid for Rodolfo Cancino’s dental bills. It has allowed [Bernal resident] Greg De Meza to start paying off debts incurred during the recession.

The common thread in all their stories was the short term rental service provided by Airbnb, which is illegal in San Francisco.

The testimonials — some voiced over a P.A. system — were on display in a Bernal Heights backyard Thursday by groups launching the Fair to Share San Francisco campaign. The campaign’s aim is simple: Legalize the money-making short term rentals that Airbnb’s business model is built upon.

On hand to make their case were a collection of short-term rental hosts, representatives of Airbnb and Peers, a “sharing economy” advocate.

The push comes amidst efforts by local leaders to solve or at least ameliorate a severe housing shortage combined with steep rents, which some Airbnb opponents have linked to the company, among others.

Into that fray, the campaign aims to back legislation like Board of Supervisors President David’s Chiu’s proposal to regulate and legalize short term rentals.

The Examiner explains that Fair to Share has received substantial support from Airbnb — including the group’s basic organizational push, recruitment, brochures, and even the PA system used at the Bernal event. That’s not a bad thing — Airbnb and its hosts are a legitimate interest group with an interest in the City’s political process — but it is important to note.

In the article, Neighbor Emily, who launched the rather clever Airbnb concierge service we’ve told you about before, argued for the stabilizing effect that vacation rentals can have on San Francisco neighborhoods:

Emily Benkert, a 17-year city resident who rents out rooms in her Bernal Heights home and has started a business that helps people run their Airbnb rentals, said the service is not a detriment to The City. “This isn’t hurting anybody,” she said. “We’re not kicking people into the street.”

Instead, she argues, Airbnb’s absence would force people to leave San Francisco since the extra income they make is what allows them to stay.

PHOTO: Bernal neighbor Greg De Meza, by Mike Koozmin, SF Examiner

Boozy Miscreants Use Dormant Home as Million-Dollar Party Shack

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It is 2014 and San Francisco is booming, housing is scarce, real estate is ridiculously expensive, and Bernal Heights is officially the sexiest neighborhood in the entire galaxy. And yet, somehow, in the middle of all this, it’s still possible for a million dollar home to become a semi-abandoned party shack where local miscreants can get drunk, enjoy the view, and trash the joint.

The party house is that Tahoe-style ski chalet that came up for sale on Mullen last March. The place sold for $950,000 in April, but since then it has had no regular occupants — except some errant local youths.

Neighbor Ian explains the rest:

The house that recently sold on Mullen Ave has sat dormant since the sale, encouraging locals to break in and party. It’s unclear who the culprits are, but there have been many gatherings of youth on the open space next to the house. Police responded a few weeks back and apparently nabbed a few people, but the partying continues. The next morning, dog walkers typically find liquor bottles strewn about, (along with the security caps found on higher-end booze.)

Neighbors have not met the new owner, but workers have come from time to time to add new plywood to the facade, only to have it pried off within 24 hours. I took these pics from outside, but I could have easily entered this million-dollar fixer-upper. Neighbors worry that these gatherings will continue. What is the obligation of the new owner to prevent these break-ins?

On the bright side, this can only mean Bernal has not yet gentrified to the point of becoming like Greenwich, Connecticut. Woo hoo!

PHOTOS: Neighbor Ian

Guess Which San Francisco Neighborhood Has Homes That Sell for the Most Over Asking Price?

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No commentary. Let’s just get to the grubby business. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

An astounding 90% of San Francisco homes sold at or over their asking prices in the second quarter of 2014, according to data compiled by Paragon Real Estate. The average in the city during the spring quarter was 11% over list price with only 26 average days on the market. As Paragon notes, these statistics may indicate the prevalence of agents underpricing homes in order to create bidding wars.

Some neighborhoods fared even better than that already high average, with top over-asking neighborhood Bernal Heights selling at an average of 24% over.

How about a chart to go with that?  Here is a chart:
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Absurd though it might seem, Bernal remains on the moderate side when you look at home prices citywide:
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And you still get a pretty good deal for your money on a square-foot basis in Bernal— within the context of total citywide insanity. Plus, we’re still $5 per square foot cheaper than St .Francis Wood. Yesssssss!
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Finally, San Francisco created 2290 new units of housing in 2013, but added 26,700 new jobs during the same period. See above, rinse, and repeat.

IMAGES: Aerial photo by Telstar Logistics. Charts via Paragon